Monday, August 6, 2007




came out of here:


When it's actually clear of weeds, this is a native azalea surrounded by giant solomon's seal, sensitive fern, and wild ginger. Hey, I couldn't tell that from the photo, either. (I'm leaving it small because the light was low when I took it and if I make it any bigger the camera shake will make you dizzy.) Most of what's obscuring the azalea is a volunteer tomato plant.

I had seen the tomatoes and sort of weeded around them earlier in the summer, but I had no idea about the cukes. They have not been supported in any way except by growing over the tomato and then onto the azalea. Yep. We have so many weeds they are staking each other by force of jungle. We have volunteer tomatoes every year from the dogs stealing tomatoes and eating them in various corners of the garden. But they've never produced fruit early enough to ripen.

I love these little untended gifts the garden throws my way. When I lived downtown, I would love watching the petunias growing in the chinks between the bricks in the sidewalk, under the windowboxes where they'd been planted the year before. Even the fussiest plants that we mail order specially don't know that about themselves. They go ahead spreading their seed around just like any other weed. I have a couple of gorgeous, big, glossy hostas that figured they'd hop a few yards over from my neighbor's place to mine. They settled in practically under the big holly, where I never would have planted anything on purpose, and they're doing just fine. By now I think I have three or four blackberry lilies, only one of which I actually planted on purpose. But blackberry lilies! Who could object to a blackberry lily, wherever it happened to plant itself?

The idea of a volunteer is so lovely. Something desirable that just crops up, not wild but not planned, coming into being not through any effort of your own--or maybe only the secondary result of effort you put in intentionally earlier, and maybe somewhere else. The honor the store won last week is a bit of a volunteer in that sense. We were just doing what we do, and how lovely...this thing arrived on our doorstep.

The several former students I have on my staff are another sort of volunteer. I did put effort into those relationships when these young women were still girls (though at the end of their girlhoods), and they have turned up again, grown, and resuming those relationships in a new setting and on somewhat different terms. But still, the initial work was long ago and for a different purpose.

In Mona in the Promised Land--a book you should go out and read immediately if you haven't (yes, of course I mean you, silly!*), and if you have read it you should go out immediately and read it again--Gish Jen thinks about volunteers this way:

In fact, he is the first of many loves that will crowd her official life--unoffical plantings that will thrive for their neglect. And eventually she will learn a name for them, a word for plants that spring up on their own. Volunteers. He is like one of these--plants she will in time learn to appreciate, even as she lets them go to seed.

I'm wondering about the volunteers in your life.

*except if you are E., because I think if you are E. you must have it memorized by now.


Magpie said...

That is impressive!

I have a volunteer tomato, but I don't know that it will fruit - the vegetable garden is all screwed up because of the drainage work around the house.

I've always liked purslane and lamb's quarters - two common weeds that are both edible - they're a sort of volunteer, appearing unbidden as they do.

niobe said...

I like pretty much everything about volunteers except the name. I have some beautiful volunteer day lilies in various spots around my yard -- purple, instead of the expected orange.

I have to say that your picture makes me almost wish I was home tending to my own (decidedly non-volunteer) tomatoes and cucumbers.

Lo said...

Does ailanthus count as a volunteer? I have always admired their tenacity. They grow *everywhere* here, including out of subway grates.

Phantom Scribbler said...

Oy, I've got ailanthus in two places in my yard. I think I'll only eradicate them with explosives, frankly. But I do love my volunteer spiderwort.

(I'm chuckling slightly at how we're all delicately ignoring the larger question here. I suspect your question will reappear as a volunteer in other people's blog posts down the line.)

S. said...

Magpie, I'm a good zone south of you and this is the first time I've gotten ripe tomatoes off a volunteer!

Niobe, I love the color shift--my blackberry lily volunteers aren't true to their parents, either. (They look like the species in the link, but their parent is all yellow.)

Lo and Phantom, ailanthus counts as an invasive weed tree. I have one growing through the deck of the store and it's time for chemicals.

And Phantom, I'm smiling, too, but I'm not sure it's delicacy. I think the larger question needs some time for the hindbrain to work on it, while comment fields invite the top-of-the head reaction. Maybe I should have told everyone to go do some dishes and then come back and comment. :)

purple_kangaroo said...

Lovely veggies. I'm hoping my cucumbers will get some cucumbers on them soon. I have plenty of green and yellow zucchini, though--enough to feed the whole neighborhood.

Furrow said...

Not bad at all. The best I've ever gotten is volunteer basil. I thought it was a self-sown salvia for the longest time.

S. said...

PK, I've never planted zucchini for exactly that reason!

Furrow--I forgot about volunteer herbs! Yes on basil and dill!